Clash By Night (1952): Fritz Lang’s Noir, Starring Stanwyck, Marilyn Monroe, Robert Ryan, Paul Douglas (Strangers in Paradise)

Fritz Lang’s 1952 quintessential film noir Clash By Night offers the great Barbara Stanwyck a role that fits her personality like a silk glove: a harsh, wounded fallen woman, capable of expressing her venom and snarls at the slightest provocation.

Clash by Night
Clash by Night poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster
Lang’s film is based on Clifford Odets’ “kitchen sink realism” stage play, which had featured Tallulah Bankhead in the lead, back in 1941.  Lang changed the tale’s locale from Staten Island to a small fishing town in California, but he kept intact the oppressive seacoast atmosphere.
The sensibilities of Odets and Lang could not have been more different.  But the famed German director overcomes the limitations of the source material by imbuing the with his personal signature and stylistic devices of film noir, so that it’s hard to tell its theatrical origins.
The film’ title derives from Matthew Arnold’s 1851 poem, “Dover Beach,” a place “where ignorant armies clash by night.”
Structurally, the drama is divided into two almost equal parts, separated by a year in time.  Each section begins with a documentary look at the fishing industry in Monterey, California. 
Disillusioned by big city life, Mae Doyle returns to her hometown of Monterey, California, after a long absence. Her look and sophisticated air attract the attention of Jerry D’Amato (Paul Douglas), a good-natured if too simple fisherman she had known in her youth.
Mae’s brother Joe is dating Peggy (Marilyn Monroe), a young, sexy femme who’s uncertain about the kind of relationship she would like to have with him. Peggy longs to live with the freedom and independence that she thinks mark Mae’s life.
Enter Earl Pfeiffer (a terrific Robert Ryan), a cynical movie projectionist, who’s immediately drawn to Mae, but their harsh cynicism prevents the development of any significant bond.
Even so, on a weak moment, Mae decides to marry Jerry and the two bear a daughter.
But this domesticated life is too uneventful for a restlessly urban woman like Mae, and weary of her lifestyle, she begins an affair with Pfeiffer.
As always with Odets, melodrama kicks in. Just when Mae decides to go off with Earl, Jerry disappears with their baby.  Disgusted by Earl’s cynicism and feeling that the child would be a burden for him, Mae goes back to Jerry, determined to assume more mature domestic responsibility as a wife and mother.
Stanwyck is perfectly cast as Mae Doyle, the fee-living woman with a dubious past, who cuckolds her hubby (well played by Paul Douglas).
But it is Ryan who delivers the film’s most anguished performance as an alienated man, whose pain flickers beneath his sardonic mask.  Ryan conveys a complex, troubled man whose misery is expressed by brutish cruelty toward others.  Earl coldly states that in every situation, “somebody’s throat has to be cut.” But when he cracks down, he cries in anguish, “help me, Mae, I’m dying of loneliness.”
Marilyn Monroe, just before becoming a major star, makes a strong impression as the independently-minded Peggy, proving that she can act and be much more than a just a sex symbol.
The opening of the film depicts in graphic detail the day-to-day work of fishermen and cannery laborers.  Lang referred to this documentary approach as “three hundred feet of introduction. The portraiture of the context situates the story firmly in a naturalistic reality that conveys the grim working class life of its characters.
Mae Doyle (Barbara Stanwyck)
Jerry D’Amato (Paul Douglas)
Earl Pfeiffer (Robert Ryan)
Peggy (Marilyn Monroe)
Uncle Vince (Carroll Naish)
Joe Doyle (Keith Andes)
Papa D’Amato (Silvio Minciotti)
Produced by Harriet Parsons
Executive Producer: Jerry Wald (Wald-Krasna Productions)
Screenplay: Alfred Hayes, based on the play by Clifford Odets
Camera: Nicholas Musuraca
Art Directors: Albert S. D’Agostino, Carroll Clark
Set Decoration: Darrell Silvera, Jack Mills
Editor: George J. Amy
Special Effects: Harold Wellman
Sound: Jean L. Speak, Clem Portman
Music: Roy Webb
Song: “I Hear a Rhapsody,” by Joe Gasparre, Jack Baker, and George Fragos, sung by Tony Martin.
Running Time: 105 Minutes.